Leaders of BRICS countries pose for group photo with representatives from each country's youth national soccer team in Goa, India, October 15, 2016. （Photo/Xinhua）
The 9th BRICS Summit, which opens in Xiamen, East China's Fujian province, within a week, is being held at a time when the group's circumstances and the international situation both are quite different from those in 2009, when the BRIC grouping officially came into being in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
The creation of the group was almost a "natural" phenomenon in the sense that by 2009 the four economies－Brazil, Russia, India and China－contributed most of the dynamism to the global economy, and thus they were obliged to seek out mechanisms to increase their say in global governance. To achieve the objective, the four countries had to increase their degree of mutual knowledge so as to identify and consolidate common purposes and goals. This is reflected in the systematic increase in the number of articles in the Summit Declarations following the first one. The cost of such an approach is a less easily identifiable common target, as the number of objectives has increased quite significantly.
Furthermore, the performance of the five economies in recent years pales in significance compared with their achievements in the late 2000s, except perhaps India's. China is growing at about half the pace it used to, and the other three BRICS member states have been experiencing very low GDP growth for the past few years. This has reinforced the skepticism among those observers who have always seen the group as a collective of countries with diverse interests and purposes.
Notwithstanding these adverse internal conditions, the group has evolved in several ways. The degree of mutual knowledge and understanding among the five countries is much deeper today than in 2009, even though there is still a long way to go before they achieve, for instance, fluent exchange of basic data that might allow for comparative analyses.
The group has also taken two significant steps with the establishment of the Contingency Reserve Arrangement and the New Development Bank, which reflect a number of specific sector agreements and joint initiatives.
On the global front, several of the conflicts mentioned in previous Summit Declarations remain alive, media headlines often refer to threatening speeches made by some heads of state or government and a number of restrictive conditions have been imposed on some countries, even BRICS members.
This means there is a risk that the political dimension might gain momentum among BRICS member states. This is worrying, to the extent that the initial motivation that led to the creation of the group was essentially economic, even though it implied political movement within the economic and institutional realm. It is not clear, though, whether the present relations among the five members are strong enough to allow for a common alignment with regard to each other's conflicts with third parties.
This is essentially the background against which the Xiamen summit will be held under the theme of "A Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future", which requires economic partnership, sustainable development and an open economy approach.
It remains to be seen whether important, sensitive issues such as intra-group trade facilitation (not only less paperwork, but actual reduction of barriers) and technology transfer will be considered this time.
From Brazil's perspective, there is a positive feeling in that a number of agreements will be signed with China, and the two heads of state will agree to take specific measures to deepen bilateral relations. This is what often follows such high-level meetings.
But in the specific case of Brazil-China relations, it is also expected that－given the importance of the bilateral relationship for both countries－the two governments will make sincere efforts to translate this recognition into actual, more fluent bureaucratic procedures, and project the new status of their relationship in more explicit ways.
The author Renato Baumann is deputy-secretary of International Affairs at the Ministry of Planning, Brazil and professor at the Universidade de Brasília.